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Proposed MLB protocols include no spitting, no showering, and personal baseballs

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Digging into the details of MLB safety and testing protocols during the coronavirus pandemic.

2019 NLDS Game 3 - Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals
Such close physical contact would not be allowed under MLB’s proposed safety protocols for 2020.
Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

There is a lot to unpack from Major League Baseball over the weekend, as the gears continue to grind toward a restarting of the 2020 season. For now, I’ll set aside MLB’s dubious claims that they will lose $640,000 each game that is played without fans. Mostly because the proposed medical and safety protocols are fascinating, and they get first dibs.

For one, the proposal from MLB is 67 pages long. It contains both incredible detail and is still malleable. “We emphasize that this is a first draft, and will undergo several rounds of changes as we collect comments and suggestions from the clubs, the players’ association, players, and government officials,” deputy commissioner Dan Halem said in an email obtained by Ronald Blum at the Associated Press.

The level of detail is astonishing, and given what we are used to in a normal baseball game, some of the proposed changes are quite jarring. No replays?

I guess with no fans there isn’t much need for replays, which could only service to stoke the flames of an argument between players and umpires.

Coronavirus testing protocols were summarized by the AP:

Team staff, including players, will be given thermometers for self screening and are to take two tests in quick succession each morning.

At the ballpark, people will be given temperature checks twice a day and multiple fluid swabs each week. Comprehensive Drug Testing will collect samples and Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City is to provide results within 24 hours.

Family members of players, umpires and the households of anyone covered under the plan will be offered access to testing and PPE. The individuals are encouraged to avoid crowd when away from ballpark.

A few other changes, among many, stood out. From Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic:

  • No more communal water or [insert sponsored sports drink here] in dugouts
  • No spitting, no sunflower seeds
  • No high fives or hugs, but also no fist bumps
  • “Players and other on-field personnel should wash or sanitize their hands after each half-inning or the handling of equipment.” (think Turk Wendell brushing his teeth every inning, but each player doing it)
  • Lockers should be six feet apart, which likely means teams would have to construct ancillary clubhouse space
  • “Pitchers will use a personal set of baseballs during bullpen sessions and separate balls to demonstrate pitching grips or mechanics.”

If you think about it, pitchers are highly skilled and coveted, much like expert chefs. Those chefs carry their own knives around, so why not have pitchers use their own baseballs? But if assistant general manager Padma Lakshmi calls you into the office, just know you are about to be demoted or traded.

Top Chef - Season 11
“Please pack your baseballs and go.”
Photo by: David Moir/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Your own personal baseballs. But don’t reach out and touch faith.

Oh, and if you pick up the receiver and call for a reliever, you’ll need to wipe down and disinfect the bullpen phone immediately afterwords.

Another eye-opening proposed rule is that showering will be discouraged at the ballpark. While high school me would have been jumping for joy in relief upon hearing this P.E. requirement, it is a drastic change for an MLB clubhouse, where some players shower multiple times each day.

Sure, sometimes on fireworks nights, with a faster path out of Dodger Stadium, players might skip the shower to get home sooner than normally possible. But eliminating showers — the technical language is reportedly “showering in club facilities should be discouraged” — altogether is a major change.

Jeff Passan at ESPN said the no-showering guideline “fired up” several players, and shared one anecdote:

One leader, in a conversation with ESPN, made reference to the 2016 labor deal in which some players believe the union prioritized creature comforts, including extra seating on spring-training buses, over economics: “I really hope no showers doesn’t become the new second seat on the bus.”

For what it’s worth, I do think players and owners can come to some sort of agreement on getting games played in this year. There is pressure on both sides to play, and I think the financial differences are solvable through negotiation. But if and when this season does start up, in whatever final form of guidelines the sport adopts, it’s clear that the 2020 Major League Baseball season will be unlike any before it.